c/o Teollisen yhteistyön rahasto Oy (FINNFUND)
P.O. Box 147
00181 Helsinki - FINLAND
tel: +358 9 348 434 (please ask for Finnpartnership)
Mobile learning systems are rapidly rising in popularity around the world. Finnish company Mobiletools entered the growing South African market with Finnpartnership’s assistance.
Mobiletools International Oy is based in Jyväskylä, Finland. A couple of years ago, personal contacts provided Mobiletools with the opportunity to see how well its mobile learning system would work in South Africa, and the company leapt at the chance.
“We wanted to see what kind of opportunities the country could offer us,” says Pekka Pirttiaho, CEO of Mobiletools.
Right from the start, Mobiletools had intended to go international, yet Africa was not the direction the company had originally been considering during its early years.
“It was a major investment for a small business. It is unlikely that we could have done this on our own. Finnpartnership’s support enabled us to get the most out of our efforts.”
Mobiletools has used Finnpartnership’s Business Partnership Support to analyse the South African market, find partners, and polish its business model.
“It’s very concrete support, as we can use it to cover salaries and travel costs. These are our largest expenses, as we can’t make progress without spending time in South Africa.”
The solution developed by Mobiletools enables companies to train personnel and collect feedback via mobile phones. This system is particularly handy when organisational or operational changes have to be quickly and efficiently mobilised and integrated into employees’ everyday work.
The upside of using a mobile solution is that it isn’t tied to any particular time or place. Even in South Africa, mobile phones are already to be found in most people’s pockets.
Mobile learning systems can be used either alone or to supplement training carried out by using traditional methods. Topics that have been studied at lectures or online can be revised and deepened using mobile phones.
In South Africa, Mobiletools decided to focus on corporate clients. First, the Finnish company had to find the right partners. After several months of searching, Mobiletools signed its first Memorandum of Understanding.
“Our partner’s customer base primarily consists of local teleoperators. They’re a logical target group for us. Operators employ a lot of highly mobile expert personnel who require training. Operators have the necessary technology in place, and they’re interested in new solutions.”
Cooperation with South African partners extends all the way to core business.
“They also act as support for our R&D, so that we can better understand African culture and the continent’s special requirements.”
Pirttiaho thinks it is impossible to succeed in Africa unless you understand its special cultural features and local business models. In South Africa, Mobiletools’ system is used not only for training, but also for marketing – competitions have been organised for certain customer groups.
“Our customers have advanced our concepts.”
The greatest technological challenge in South Africa is the diversity of end-users’ devices. Solutions must work on every mobile phone, whether it is a basic, twenty-euro model or an expensive smart phone.
Pirttiaho is glad that Mobiletools dared to enter South Africa. Developing operations in an emerging market has, however, taken longer than expected.
“You have to make long-term plans in Africa. It’s pointless to expect fast profits on that continent. For us, South Africa is an important proving ground, where we will be able to test the solutions we’ve adapted specifically to emerging markets.”
Pirttiaho is also open to the possibility of expanding into other African countries, although such expansion is not on the agenda in the near future.
“At the moment, we’re monitoring our progress in South Africa to see how our operating model could be adapted to other countries. It’s a diamond that still needs polishing.”
After its acquisition in May, Mobiletools became part of Prewise Oy, which provides companies with e-learning services. Operations in South Africa will also continue under the new brand.
“Our operating principle will, however, remain the same,” says Pirttiaho.